Be wary of playing China card in a divided US as 2022 midterm elections approach
Published: Jan 03, 2022 07:21 PM
Division in the US Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Division in the US Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The US is either in the process of elections or in preparation for elections. There are some 300 days to go before the 2022 midterm elections but the campaigns of candidates and the debates on the mainstream US media have already started when US President Joe Biden has been in office for barely a year.

The sweeping Republican advance in the states of Virginia and New Jersey in early November is fairly enough to cause anxiety among Democrats. This is the characteristic of modern US politics: the design of the US political system and the resulting preference of the American public for a divided government and power balance makes the midterm elections a nightmare for almost all US presidents. 

Division and political polarization batters and drains the new administration which usually ends up doing nothing when its term ends. This is a mechanism which is supposed to stabilize political forces and keep the balance of power but at the end weakens the confidence of the public toward the government and the democratic system the US touts. 

Nonetheless, the American public can find no one to blame because each party can leave the problems it cannot solve to the other party. In other words, neither needs to shoulder the responsibility for its performance. 

The US politics has come to a deadlock. The 2022 midterm elections will present the world an ever more divided US.

Internal strife

The loss of House seats by the president's party in the midterm elections is recurrent in US politics. As recent as 2018, Trump's Republicans lost control of the House and were only able to hold the Senate in the midterm polls.

Earlier December, CNN compared some key factors between now and four years ago like the generic Congressional ballot, rate of presidential approval, special elections and House retirements. It concluded that every single indicator pointing to a Democratic wave in 2018 now points to a Republican one in the upcoming 2022 midterms.

Diao Daming, an associate professor at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times that Biden and his Democratic Party are facing a more radical political atmosphere than before, with identity politics and tribalization of US society strengthening. The pandemic may also lead to new uncertainties. 

Now, Biden has to grapple with pressure from his Republican opponents and betrayal from within the party. The Republicans always sing a different tone with Biden, be it the COVID-19 mandate or recovery plan. They do not provide justifiable reasons or constructive alternatives but just oppose for the sake of contradicting or for votes.

What is worse, Biden suffered a "stab on the back" in December when Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, said he would not vote for the Build Back Better Act, the administration's long-stalled legislation and Biden's signature plan. It is too early to tell if this is a death sentence for this ambitious plan but it is certainly a stumbling block on Biden's presidency.

Every two years the incumbent US president faces a nerve-raking test. Before Biden can fulfill his elections promise and do something concrete, people are beginning to talk about the possibility of him stepping down. This, on the one hand, shows the peak of US political polarization, and on the other, exposes Biden's inability to govern, said Diao.

Diao noted that Biden was never empowered by the people, because when he was vice president, he was under the wing of former president Barack Obama who was accepted by voters. Last year, he won the presidential election, not because of his ability, but because of Trump's incompetence. 

"When Biden ended Trump's term, he had finished his task. Now, he is in an unprecedented weak position and this may exacerbate the political chaos in the US in the near future," Diao told the Global Times.

Zhang Tengjun, Deputy Director of the Department of Asia-Pacific Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, believes that due to political polarization in the US, if Biden and his Democratic Party cannot secure a second term after 2024, his policies are bound to be overturned by the new Republican president, which is a political dilemma the US faces right now.

"Under such a predicament, social governance is hardly sustainable," Zhang told the Global Times.

The China factor

US midterm elections are mostly oriented to domestic issues. Although China-related topics are not likely to dominate the elections, experts believe they may point the direction of the US' policy toward China and China-US relations in the next two years.

Lawmakers from both the Democratic and the Republican parties are deeply divided over many issues but China is one the few areas where they furiously work together. Between 2019 and 2021, more than 550 China-related bills and resolutions have been introduced with more than 330 proposed in 2021. Therefore, 2022 will be a year of legislation and law enforcement, and many lawmakers may exploit the China agenda to push forward the Biden administration's containment of China. As both parties elbow to compete who is tougher against China, an anti-China wave is expected during next year's midterm elections and beyond. 

If the Democrats manage to keep control of the House and the Senate, the Biden administration will have at least two years to continue with its current China policy and may explore new ways of competition and cooperation. However, if they lose control of the House or the Senate or both, Biden will face a divided government. He will meet opposition from the Republicans in almost every aspect, including China, and the prospects of future China-US ties may look even dimmer. 

Topics related to China are not simply about foreign policy. Often, they relate to US domestic interests. The possibility that both parties play the China card to win votes ahead of the midterm elections does exist which shows the US' bossy attitude toward the other countries.

China should not sit still. It can expose US smears about China to the international community. The badmouthing about China is produced by anti-China US politicians out of their own interests and China should not become a victim to serve the US elections. 

"For instance, China can consider sanctioning those who hysterically attack China like putting them in the unreliable entity list," Zhang told the Global Times.

The author is a reporter of the Global Times. wangwenwen@globaltimes.com.cn